Dominican Republic: Between show deportations and an open border

As of: May 19, 2024 8:13 a.m

A new president will be elected today in the Dominican Republic. Incumbent Abinader fought the election campaign on the backs of migrants from neighboring Haiti. Without them as workers it would hardly be possible.

In a square in the center of Dajabón, a boy sleeps in the shade of a pavilion. He is lying on the bare floor, with only his head resting on his black flip-flops – his pillow for the night. A woman shakes him awake. He turns around slowly. His name is Kiki and he comes from the Haitian city Cap Haitien. Nancy Betances woke him up. She works on a voluntary basis for the Network for the Protection of Children, an association of various organizations in the Dominican Republic.

Kiki’s red T-shirt and shorts sag over his emaciated body. That’s all he has. He is alone, completely on his own. His father died, his mother lives in Haiti, but he doesn’t know anything about her, he reports.

In the Dominican Republic, Kiki has neither parents nor a roof over his head – and most of the time he has to go hungry.

The sun beats down on the small Dominican town right on the border with Haiti. The fact that the situation in the neighboring country is getting worse can also be seen in the fact that even more people are crossing the border, says Betances. They had nothing to eat and had to survive somehow.

Kiki lives from day to day. He actually wants to go to the province of Santiago to work there, where tobacco is grown and, not too far away, tourists lie in lounge chairs under the palm trees on white sandy beaches and sip the rum that is served to them by Haitian waiters.

deportations too election campaign purposes

Anyone who wants to can cross the border, says Betances. However, it is election season. This means that deportations have also increased: “They deport 200 or 300 every day, but then 1,000 to 2,000 come in in the following days. It’s all a show.”

On the outskirts of Dajabón, a gray border wall with a high fence to the unequal twin state is growing, crowned with barbed wire. The Dominican Republic and Haiti share an island – and could hardly be more different. On the one hand, a prosperous country that attracts tourists from all over the world, on the other hand, the country in constant crisis, which has not been able to escape the spiral of gang violence and poverty for years and from which people are fleeing.

The incumbent President Luis Abinader is campaigning with pithy slogans against Haitian migrants. Dominican political scientist Daniel Pou explains that he took office in 2020 primarily with the promise of fighting corruption. “In the four years that he will complete in August, he has fired officials from his own ranks who were found to have corrupt practices. In previous governments they were transferred from one place to another, but the same corrupt people are in the state ones Structures remained.”

The voters in the Dominican Republic give him credit for this. Also that the country’s economy has been growing steadily for years – it has the highest growth rates in Latin America. However, since the situation in Haiti has become so serious, the main focus in the parliamentary and presidential elections has been on the issue of migration.

Both Haitians and residents of the Dominican Republic shop at the binational market in the border town of Dajabón.

“Who should we negotiate with?”

Stirring up resentment helps Abinader get votes, says Dominican political scientist Rosario Espinal. It is said that a small right-wing elite is exerting pressure. He used the scenario of a threat from the Haitians in the election campaign to gain broad support among the population. It is a discourse that many Dominicans support. “There is extreme nationalism. Abinader says he is taking a tough stance against migration, but migration just continues,” said the political scientist.

Abinader has the best chance of being re-elected. There would never have been such a secure border and it was equipped with the latest technology. “Everyone talks about the fact that we have to regulate migration through diplomatic channels. But how can that be done in a country that has no real government. Who should we negotiate with? With the criminals? We did what we had to do and they Border secured. Our military is ready,” says Abinader, promoting his policy.

Last year, nearly 500,000 Haitians were forced to return to their country, almost half leaving voluntarily, when it was announced that the border between the two countries would be completely closed. Another 250,000 were repatriated by the authorities.

Corrupt structures at the border

Watchtowers and military vehicles can be seen at regular intervals. Security forces doze in the heat or chat with Haitian women who walk by. Betances knows that many of them have no papers or have expired ones. There doesn’t seem to be any threat of deportation at this moment. Massive corruption is a big problem. The Haitian migrants are a lucrative business for smugglers who take them to tourist centers where they are cheap labor.

Security forces also earn a lot from the migrants – between nine and $35 per head, explains Betances. Corrupt structures that Abinader does not take action against. She looked at the migration routes herself and observed how the military paid off and then waved the Haitians through. “And there are Dominicans who take the Haitians to their destination. They have houses, I once visited one. There were 30 Haitians staying there, including some children. They were waiting to be taken to different cities,” reports Betances.

A military checks vehicles on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The soldiers don’t look too closely at bribes, says one activist.

The dependence of neighboring states

Haitian migrants work primarily in construction, in agriculture, cleaning private houses, working as a mechanic or at a bakery – and all of this for the lowest wages. The two countries are dependent on each other. Haiti is the third most important export market for the Dominican Republic.

For months, Haitians who actually have a work or residence permit have not been able to renew their documents and new visas have not been issued. Political scientist Rosario Espinal does not believe that anything will change significantly. The Dominican Republic benefits from cheap, undocumented workers.

Because they remain without rights and cannot make any demands. And you can also do a great election campaign with them.

Anne Demmer, ARD Mexico City, tagesschau, May 16, 2024 4:58 p.m

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